Iraqi prime minister visits Basra, months after unrest

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s new prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, made his first visit to Basra on Sunday, promising better water and electricity services after riots swept through the impoverished city last summer.

Demonstrators set fire to nearly every government building in the summer unrest and torched most political party offices and the Iranian consulate as well. At least a dozen protesters were killed in the security response.

Basra generates most of Iraq’s oil revenues, but its services are in decay. The city’s canals are clogged with garbage and its drinking water is unsafe.

Abdul-Mahdi’s visit came as Parliament debated the 2019 budget in Baghdad, with Basra lawmakers complaining the central government was neglecting their city. Basra is the second largest city in the country.

Donning a flat cap and scarf, the 77-year-old premier toured water and sewage plants, a power station, and an oil and gas plant, promising to “redouble” efforts to fix the city’s services.

Video published by the prime minister’s office showed surprised residents kissing the premier and handing him business cards, on his unannounced walk through the unpaved streets of the Ghadir neighborhood.

But the president of the provincial council for Basra, Sabah Bazouni, said local officials were not given any notice of Abdul-Mahdi’s visit.

“The prime minister came to Basra while the council was in Baghdad meeting with the Parliament finance committee,” said Bazouni.

He said he was certain the visit “would not change a thing” for the city.